Yesterday morning I woke up to Aquaphor hieroglyphics on my wall. I tried to make out some star constellations, but upon closer examination, I just found a bunch of handprints and smears.
A few hours later, one of my four-year-olds came running in from outside, shouting that he had some gum in his hair. But upon closer examination, I found that “some gum” was a bit of an understatement. He had a big pink wad that looked to be about half of a roll of Bubble Tape.
Peanut butter is a popular choice to help ease gum out of hair. But a peanut butter/Aquaphor combination works even better.
I cleaned him up and the kids went on to search and destroy as they do so well.
As a mom of three little boys, I am quite accomplished when it comes to stuff that sticks. Name a surface, any surface. Pick an instrument, any instrument. Choose a substance, any substance. I bet I have a story for you.
Was it Colonel Mustard with the glue stick on the leather ottoman?
Yes. Only it wasn’t Colonel Mustard.
I have seen more than my fair share of sticky stuff. I have cleaned up more than my fair share of sticky stuff. I have cried and yelled more than my fair share about the sticky stuff.
Because most of the time, finding sticky stuff means finding mess and destruction and exasperation and a long, hard cleanup.
One time I had to go through four different cleaning solutions and a lot of research to discover how to get Pam non-stick spray off of every surface of my kitchen, including the cabinetry, the stainless steel, and the wood floors which had turned into a large skating rink. Turns out that even the non-stick stuff still sticks.
Later in this very same gummy Aquaphory day, I discovered some other sticky stuff. But this time it had nothing to do with mess or destruction or exasperation. And this time there was no long, hard cleanup required. This time I found something sticky that was so beautiful it eclipsed all of the other not-so-beautiful sticky stuff.
I walked into our front room and stumbled across a long line of gift bags that stretched from one end of the room to the other. The boys, on another one of their rogue missions, had discovered my wrapping paper and box of gift bags. They brought out all of the bags and lined them up from one wall to the other. They filled each of the bags with their own toys. I stood there in confusion and preemptive irritation but then they explained that their gifts were for “all of the kids who didn’t have any toys.” They wanted to hand them out to anyone who might happen to come to our door. They even stood on our front porch and yelled out into the world: “Hey kids who have no toys! Come get our toys!”
What made this moment beautiful was that the boys came up with this idea without my suggestion or influence or requirement. The moment was beautiful because of its independence and spontaneity.
What made this moment a gift was that it helped me realize that the good stuff sticks, too.
Our efforts make a difference. Our efforts to plant and build and pass along important values like kindness and compassion and generosity, those efforts make a difference. Our energy makes a difference. Our energy spent trying to teach our kids how to love, how to care, and how to serve, that energy makes a difference.
Even if we don’t see those differences most of the time. Unfortunately, we have to set aside the privilege of immediate gratification. We just keep planting and building and trusting that all of that good stuff somehow sticks somewhere.
Then we wait. We wait for moments exactly like the moment I had last night.
And while we wait, we clean up the messes and the destruction and we spend a lot of time on our knees.
Because the truth is that the bad stuff that sticks can usually be washed away.
But the good stuff stays around.
The good stuff gets stashed right where we want it to be. Inside. In those tiny corners of their hearts, those unreachable, unwashable, unchangeable places where stuff stays forever. It’s the kind of stuff that forms a character and guides choices and finds the good stuff in others.
The bad stuff that sticks eventually turns into good stories.
The good stuff that sticks eventually turns into good people.
So the next time I’m trying to figure out how to remove melted crayon out of upholstery fabric or how to remove play-dough from the inside of a door lock, I’ll remember last night. The next time I’m faced with a long, hard cleanup, I’ll remember last night.
I’ll remember how my boys reminded me that if I spend all of my time on the bad stuff that sticks on the outside, I just might miss catching a glimpse of the good stuff that sticks on the inside.
My four-year-old son wore the same pair of green frog rain boots every day for over a year. He wore them in the rain, of course, but he also wore them in blizzards and on hot July days. He wore them when he went to school and the grocery store and the swimming pool. He wore them when he played soccer or rode his bike or dressed up as a superhero. He wore them everywhere.
After a while the boots started breaking down. It began with a few cracks and then some rips which created little flaps that fluttered in the air as he ran. Every once in a while I’d come across a new piece that had fallen off—in the house, the car, his bed. I was waiting for the day the boots dismantled mid-stride into a crumbled heap on the ground. Until then, I knew that if I couldn’t find him, I just needed to follow the green rubber trail.
The boots received endless commentary wherever we went. Most people laughed. Some were confused. A few even offered to buy him a new pair. But I explained this was a love affair that no one could ever break up.
He chose those battered boots, over and over again, and over all other shoes. I bought him new flip-flops and new sneakers, but he always chose the boots. Even when they deteriorated to a point that when it actually rained, they remained wet, he still chose the boots. Especially on rainy days. He chose them because although he liked other shoes, he loved the boots.
And by loving those boots, he reminded me about what it really means to love.
To love means to make a choice, the same choice, over and over again. It’s a knowing choice, a thoughtful choice, a deliberate choice.
It may not always be a logical or practical or comfortable choice. In fact, it often isn’t.
But love doesn’t care so much about those details. Love doesn’t bother with logic and practicality and comfort. Love doesn’t worry about disgrace or damage. Love turns a blind eye to other options, including the sparkly new ones. Love hangs on in a breakdown. And in a storm.
When we love, we don’t see the cracks or the rips. Because love clings to the tried and true. And all of those cracks and rips come with the trying. But it is only by trying that we get to the true. And once we get to the true, we keep coming back, to make the same choice one more time, over and over again.
When we love, we have found something that is indispensable…to our hearts, to our lives, to our stories. We have found our true.
There’s a lot to love about a little boy and his green frog rain boots.
There’s a lot to learn about love as well.